Week 11 has come and- okay. Spoiler alert! The Buccaneers won! Mike Evans exploded and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers actually won another game! Now that I’ve spilled the beans, let’s look at how such a mind-boggling moment happened. Obviously, they must not have been playing in Raymond James Stadium. The fact of the matter is that the Bucs walk out of Week 11 at a surprisingly positive 2-8. I know, the record doesn’t sound good, but remember that the Buccaneers are playing in the Sloppy South. A record of 2-8 isn’t bad when your division leader is 4-6. The Buccaneers are (very technically) two games behind, but in all reality when tiebreakers are accounted for, they’re essentially three games behind.
The Bucs haven’t won since week five against the Steelers, and the burning question has to do with what exactly changed. The simplest way to answer that question is execution. The catch to that simple answer is that lack of execution had plenty of opportunities to screw things up for the Bucs. There were glaring flaws in this victory, and the ineptitude of a Washington Redskins team led by RG3&Out certainly helped Tampa Bay. Between multiple players, Demar Dotson leading the group, the Buccaneers racked up a whopping 11 penalties for 101 yards. That’s more than double the amount of rushing yards the Bucs finished with.
The next Buccaneer blunder is sponsored by that smooth segue I just made. The Bucs finished with 48 total rushing yards. Charles Sims led the way with 36 yards, while Josh McCown had 8 yards and Bobby Rainey had 4 yards. In fairness to those things we call running backs, the offensive line couldn’t create a running lane even if they were told to draw one on a piece of cardboard. While they weren’t doing much to help, Charles Sims got very little done in the grand scheme of things. Sims did have a few dynamic runs of just over ten yards, but the majority of the touches came his way. Despite my biased love of Charles Sims (Go Coogs), he led the way to a rushing attack that was simply a non-factor.
Speaking of non-factors, does anyone know if we still have any tight ends? I feel like Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Brandon Myers have become glorified agile fullbacks. They clearly aren’t making much impact from a run-blocking perspective. I can understand focusing on the hot commodity in a game, but ASJ walking out with only one target on the day just seems lazy. When you have such a massive tight end threat, you should at least try to take advantage of him. If he never gets thrown to, the opposing defense stops being scared of him.
As for the man making those targets, Josh McCown was, on the whole, light years ahead of where he’s been this season. In many ways, this finally looked like the Josh McCown that everyone had expected to see. The seasoned veteran picking people apart as long as he got a little time. With the enormous assist from Mike Evans, McCown going a measly 15 of 23 on passing attempts somehow turned into 288 yards. The most important stat from McCown is that he threw zero interceptions. However, he did almost tally one into that column.
Upon rewatching the game, one throw seemed to haunt me. With just under eight minutes left in the second quarter, Josh McCown stepped back to pass with the Bucs nearing the endzone. Going through progressions, McCown no doubt first saw that Vincent Jackson had two men on him at first glance. A glance to Bobby Rainey, all five feet eight inches of him, appeared to be clean single coverage. It’s hard to tell at this point how much of this is success by the Redskins defense and how much is McCown rushing a decision.
McCown chooses Bobby Rainey, and as he is loading up to fire, both men covering Vincent Jackson break off and rush towards Rainey. The five foot wonder is now triple covered in the endzone. McCown’s throw appears overthrown, and just barely slips through the hands of Redskins cornerback David Amerson. It wasn’t an interception, but it felt way too close for comfort. A moment longer or a fake to Rainey might’ve even left V-Jax wide open in the endzone. That mistake could’ve shifted the entire flow of the game. Despite this one moment, McCown largely showed poise and good decision making en route to Mike Evans’ record-breaking performance.
Before I get to the man of the hour, the defense has to be accounted for. On the opposite side of the ball, the defense came to play. The stats tell the story. The defense finished with six sacks, two interceptions, caused the Redskins to fumble four times, recovered one of those fumbles, scored a defensive touchdown (thanks to one of those interceptions), and had seven tackles for loss. Lavonte David led the team in tackles (again) with 13 combined tackles, and Major Wright also had nine combined tackles. I don’t believe that future opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks will be as bad as Washington’s, but those are still positive numbers.
Now, I’m finally to the best part. I couldn’t start here, because the article would have seemed like a gushing love fest too early. Evans had 209 yards on only seven receptions. His nearly 30 yards per catch led to two touchdowns and torched the Redskins’ secondary on multiple occasions. Evans is a beast, and there’s no longer any denying that. I’d like to quote what I said after Mike Evans was drafted. “Evans is not a perfect player, but at only 20 years old he has immense room to grow. He has improved consistently in college, and I have no doubt he’ll do the same at a new level. This is the moment when I truly despise the speculation prior to the draft the most. It makes picks like this feel less meaningful. Evans has been overanalyzed and overpredicted to the point that this pick feels less spectacular, but in four months it’ll become very clear how big of a deal it is for our offense.”
It took much longer than I wanted for this moment to happen, and equally as long for the Buccaneers to taste success more than once. The Buccaneers fought hard to 2-8, and the Redskins win could be a turning point. It’s frustrating how hard it is to be excited about a win for a team that is struggling so mightily, but they’ll hopefully continue to with all their heart. If they struggle mightily enough and the odds are in their favor, we could be talking about a Week 17 showdown between the Buccaneers and Saints to decide who goes to the playoffs. A Bucs fan can dream.